Flavia Agnes

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Flavia Agnes
Born1947 (age 70–71)
Mumbai, India
OccupationLawyer, Activist, Author, Lecturer

Flavia Agnes is an Indian women's rights lawyer[1] with expertise in marital, divorce and property law.[2] She has written and published numerous articles, some of which have appeared in the journals Subaltern Studies, Economic and Political Weekly, and Manushi. She writes on themes of minorities and the law, gender and law, law in the context of women's movements,[3] and on issues of domestic violence, feminist jurisprudence, and minority rights.[1] Flavia Agnes began working in the field of women in law in the 1980s, which was at the beginning of the second phase of the women's movement,[4] and since 1988, Agnes has been a practicing lawyer at the Mumbai High Court. Her own experience with domestic violence inspired her to become a women's rights lawyer.[5] She also advises the government on law implementation and currently advises the Ministry of Women and Child Development in Maharashtra.[6] Along with Madhushree Dutta, Agnes is the co-founder of MAJLIS, meaning 'association' in Arabic, "a legal and cultural resource centre[7]" that campaigns for and provides legal representation for women on issues of matrimonial rights, child custody etc. Since its inception in 1990, MAJLIS has provided legal services for 50,000 women, many of them destitute, and counseled three times as many.[8]

Early life[edit]

Flavia Agnes was born in Mumbai. She primarily grew up in Mangalore, Karnataka in a small town called Kadri, where she lived with her aunt. As one of six children, Agnes was the only child to stay in Mangalore.[1] On the eve of her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams, her aunt died, and Agnes went to Aden, Yemen, and worked as a typist. Her family returned to Mangalore [9] after Agnes' father's death. After Agnes' father's death in her teenage years, the females in her family, particularly her mother and her aunt, became increasingly influential during her upbringing.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Agnes, a Christian, was considered a religious minority in India.[1] Her religious affiliation affected various domains of her life, such as her marriage and her political motivations.[1] Her mother had urged her to have an arranged marriage.[1] Although she has not publicly disclosed the details of her marriage problems,[1] she reportedly had a bad marriage and tried for a divorce. The divorce proceedings took much longer than anticipated. As a Christian, Agnes was not entitled to 'divorce on the grounds of cruelty' under the Christian Marriage Act and had to ask for a judicial separation.[9]

The church provided an outlet for Agnes to become politically active.[1] She became inspired by engaging in church lecturers and listening to outside speakers,[1] particularly one entitled: "Christ the Radical" that covered the anti-rape movement.[1] Attending this event in particular inspired Agnes to join the Forum against Oppression of Women later on.[1]


Prior to her marriage, Agnes had only completed her SSC exams. Agnes' greater involvement in the women's movement motivated her to study further to obtain meaningful employment, live independently and secure custody of her children. As a result, Agnes completed the Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women's University (SNDT) entrance exam and completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Sociology with Distinction in 1980.[9]

Agnes then completed an LLB in 1988 and began to practise law at the Mumbai High Court. She later completed her LLM from Mumbai University in 1992.[9] She received an M.Phil from National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) in 1997. For her thesis, which was later published by Oxford University Press, she worked on law and gender equality, examining the politics of personal laws in different religious communities, particularly those affecting women.

Subsequent to her M.Phil, Agnes became a guest faculty at NLSIU. She is also a member of the visiting faculty at National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad (NALSAR) and Jindal Global Law School. She continues to be called to universities in India and abroad for guest lectures and panel discussions covering issues of legal importance. She has also taught in medical schools.

Work Experience[edit]

Flavia Agnes was both similar and different to other feminists at the time regarding her work in law practice. Among other practicing lawyers, she was concerned with women's rights. More particularly, she was concerned with women's economic rights. Her goal was to solve women's inequality and impoverishment within the Indian economic structure, especially regarding property ownership.[4] She acknowledges that some Hindu women were not allowed any property, and other women were allowed a small amount in the pre-colonial and civil time in India under the British law.[4] Women eventually gained more independence before marriage, but not in the sense of property law.[4]


Death Penalty[edit]

In India, the death penalty is handed out in cases described as "rarest of rare" but Agnes and her team of lawyers at MAJLIS have been prominent critics of the death penalty and oppose it for all cases. Sometimes their opposition has been controversial as they opposed it for the accused in both the Nirbhaya case and the Shakti Mills case. Agnes talks of a class bias when it comes to convicting rape accused and points out that as per the rules of Section 376E (which allows death penalty for cases of rape) the accused must be "unrepentant repeat offenders". In both the aforementioned cases, that was not the case and according to Agnes, this type of judgement serves to "dilute" the 'rarest of rare' premise. Agnes is also against the concept that rape is worse than death or that a women who is rape is a "zinda laash" (walking dead)[10] pointing out that not only does this concept demean women but if rape is equated with murder, "more women will be killed after they are raped. Even worse, less number of women will report rape, particularly if it is committed by a near and dear one."[11]

The Global Feminisms Project[edit]

Flavia Agnes is a part of the Global Feminisms Project, an archive created in 2002 to explore women scholars and activists around the world.[12] The initial Project focused on four countries: China, India, Poland, and the United States, and was headed by the University of Michigan's Abigail Stewart, Jayati Lal, and Kristin McGuire. Three additional country sites (Nicaragua, Brazil and Russia) have been added. The Project currently consists of seven countries and 79 interviews. The interviews are focused on the women's experiences and their feminist activism.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l McGuire, Kristin (2010). "Becoming Feminist Activists: Comparing Narratives". Feminist Narratives. 36: 99–125.
  2. ^ "I think I have done pretty well as Flavia Agnes". 5 March 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  3. ^ "Dr. Flavia Agnes to Speak on "Women's Rights and Legal Advocacy in India"". University of Wisconsin-Madison. 3 November 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Shodhan, Amrita (2000). Agnes, Flavia, ed. "Women, Personal Laws and the Changing Juridical Practice". Economic and Political Weekly. 35 (15): 1259–1261. JSTOR 4409145.
  5. ^ Agnes, Flavia; Douglas, Carol Anne; Henry, Alice (May 1988). "Interview: Feminism in India: Violence, Trades". Off Our Backs. 18 (5): 4–5. JSTOR 25796296.
  6. ^ Chowdhary, Seema. "Indian Lawyer Overcomes Domestic Abuse to Defend Women's Rights". Global Press Journal (24 May 2013). India News Desk. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  7. ^ Vincent, Subramaniam (1 June 2004). "Status of Indian Women's Rights". India Together. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  8. ^ Jaisingani, Bella (20 June 2011). "Once victim overcomes fear, half the battle's won" (Times of India). Bennet, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Times News Network. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d Khan, Parizaad (14 August 2009). "Freedom from abuse". Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  10. ^ Tatke, Sukhada (5 April 2014). "Opinions divided on Shakti Mills case". The Hindu. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  11. ^ Agnes, Flavia (5 April 2014). "Why I oppose death penalty for rapists". Mumbai Mirror. Bennet, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  12. ^ "Welcome to Global Feminisms at the University of Michigan | Global Feminisms at the University of Michigan". globalfeminisms.umich.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-07.

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